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Nine-Eleven-Eleven: Are the Chickens Still Roosting?

[ 8 ] September 2, 2011 |

by Forrest Seymour

The unexpected destruction of Hurricane Irene shocked us all here in northern New England. Mud rivers washing through main streets. Homes and businesses floating away. And, as people do in times of trouble, generosity abounds. In adversity, we feel our brotherhood. It’s what we humans do. Or, sometimes do.

In advance of 9/11/11, fears abound, earthquakes and hurricanes. We are reminded of the horror of 9/11, the unexpected destruction of the iconic World Trade Center in the heart of New York City, the virtual heart of our country, or at least it’s commercial heart. The unimaginable terror of the thousands trapped, and the heroic tragedy of the very first responders. And now we’ve lived a decade of echos and ripples. We all have our 9/11 stories. No one is untouched. Particularly the half-million troops who have rotated through our decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our country is changed. 9/11 redefined America, gave the faltering new Bush Administration 7 years of purpose and direction, destroyed our economy, militarized our youth (video war games and camo clothing now abound), doubled the U.S. military budget, and, perhaps most dangerously, polarized our public discourse.

For most of the decade since 9/11 the dominant discourse has been “us or them,” as articulated by then President George Bush to Congress on 9/20/01: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” In a crisis this has a secure ring, but once the toxic dust settles, it is a dangerous and hollow platitude. Us v. Them leaves no room for questions, no room for nuance, no room for creativity. It requires strict deference to the received wisdom that they are bad and we are right.

This simplicity was just fine for the Bush Administration. Whether their agenda was to “re-establish” America’s reputation and supremacy worldwide (which was always a myth) or to drive our economy into the ground to justify dismantling the government and letting business interest run wild (always a possibility), they exploited and fed Americans’ xenophobic fears and (like the Reagan Administration before, with it’s “Morning in American” campaign), created a mythological American past for us to pine for and aspire towards, a past where men were men and men were in charge and no one dared sneeze at America much less attack our institutions.

Today millions still pine for this myth. Like a cancer on the electorate, the idea of American Greatness has metastasized into religious proportions, become a system of faith, a pillar of wisdom, many many people’s daily cup of tea. This faith in patriarchal leadership in families, business and governments, a faith in violence, a faith in the healthy culling effects of adversity, has soaked through to the soul of so many institutions, from the Republican Party to the Fox News Global Machine to the once refreshing and now stale Tea Party.

Characterized by faith in old, unquestioned systems of received wisdom, from the bible to the constitution, and a foolish faith in the men and women who claim to know these document’s “original” meaning, these institutions reflect our fears, fear of change, fear of loss of control, fear of the unknown. Rather then look ahead, they look back, and discover there (no surprise) reinforcement for their own worst fears.

On 9/12, the day we like to say the world was with us, a professor named Ward Churchill published his now infamous “Roosting Chickens” reflection on 9/11  suggesting (in darned clear terms) that the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center the day before were a predictable response to the U.S. foreign policy of the last several decades, and to the Western religious crusades of centuries before. For his forthright bravery Churchill lost his job (though only after the Fox News Global Machine attacked him some years later).

So where are those chickens now? Can we talk about them? Can we acknowledge that maybe our foreign machinations of the 20th Century fueled enough hostility to plan, fund and execute the audacious 9/11 attacks? Or must we remain bound up in the Us v. Them mentality?

Certainly it seems clear that the consequences of the attacks moved the U.S. in exactly the direction the planners of the attack desired, mired in a decade long war in Afghanistan, the “graveyard of empires,” far weaker economically, and polarized if not paralyzed politically. We responded just the way they wanted, with bluster and “shock and awe.” We walked right into the trap of our own grandiosity, our faith in patriarchy, violence and the myth of American Greatness, just like they knew we would.

Whether we have the courage to take responsibility, as a society, for the violence that was visited on us on 9/11 or not, we will only make our economy and society worse if we don’t take responsibility for the disaster we find ourselves in today, our crumbling economy, greater disparity between rich and poor, a failing heath care system, and politics fueled by hatred and fear. These are our chickens and they continue to roost.

Personally I’d like to see President Barack Obama man-up and position the U.S. as the new found ambassador of peace. Dismantle our war machine, build windmills not bombs. But he’s a moderate, a conciliator, always has been, probably always will. Still, he does bring a new frame to our foreign policy.

It must irk some conservatives that it’s Obama who found both Osama bin Ladin and helped bring down Moammar Gaddafi, two vilified characters in the conservative Us v. Them cosmology. Especially since he did these both in a far more understated way than the blusterning Bush’s style.

This, then, is the new U.S. foreign policy, one that recognizes chickens when they roost. Sophisticated behind the scenes leadership that recognizes the liability of overt U.S. branding. Confidence that does not depend on being seen as the biggest bully on the block. A frame that actually fulfills one particularly ostentatious campaign promise: Hope.

This is not your father’s foreign policy. As the dust settles, as the flood waters recede, as a decade passes since 9/11, we dust off and dry off and reach across the divide to see what we can do for our neighbors. How can we collaborate, how can we help. It is the spirit of 9/12, it just took us a decade to get there. It is what we human do. Most of the time.

by Forrest Seymour


Bush speech to Congress 9/20/01

Ward Churchill “Roosting Chickens” Essay Controversy

“Some People Push Back: On the Justice Of Roosting Chickens,” by Ward Churchill

Category: Civility, Gender, Leadership, Politics

About Forrest Seymour: See my LinkedIn Profile Forrest Seymour is a social worker, psychotherapist and violence prevention consultant.  He has worked in community based programs, hospitals, schools and colleges supporting individual and institutional efforts to prevent sexual violence and promote emotional and community health since the mid-‘70s.  He has consulted with State Department International Visitor Groups and serves on the Cheshire County (NH) Domestic Violence Council, the New Hampshire Violence Against Women Campus Consortium and the steering committee of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Outreach.  Since 2006, Forrest has been at the Keene State College Counseling Center where he is a Counselor and the Coordinator of Sexual Violence Prevention & Education.  He counts amongst his inspirations the many men he has collaborated with locally, nationally and internationally who seek in so many creative ways to end men’s violence, but most especially, the male and female students at Keene State College who step up as Mentors in Violence Prevention peer educators, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes march organizers, Shout Out Against Sexual Assault speakers and witnesses, Take Back the Night marchers, “Vagina Monologues” and “No Zebras, No Excuses” performers,  and as violence prevention activists in countless large and small ways every year and every day.  These students are victims, survivors, allies and active-bystanders; they are leaders, role models and inspirations for their peers, for their faculty and staff, and for Forrest. View author profile.

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  • Fredfarkel1

    I believe in dissension, but I must say that your blog has got to be the most garb*ge filled, hate America first rant, that I ever read. I see how you “cherry pick” the headlines, like some adolescent M*rxist 60’s hippie taking America to task in the “Free Press”.

    America may not be perfect, but the vision her vision has always been on the side of what we thought was right. We have made mistakes, but at least we have the cojones to admit them.

    Where do you think your freedom comes from, a periodical in your office? You, my friend, seem to like to hide behind acadamia, with your intellect, without the real world premiss to understand the complexities. i shutter to think how many minds you have inflicted with your dribble…

    • Forrest Seymour

      This site reflects my work and my opinions only. If you want to discuss something feel free. Trading insults does not interest me.

  • Tim

    I really enjoyed your blog here, Forrest. The more I study world history of the past several decades, the more I find myself getting a more realistic view of America, the land I love. We’re not perfect, some people do have a rational reason for hating us, and maybe owning up to the mistakes we’ve made in the past would make us a stronger country. Thanks for speaking up, and don’t listen to this fredfarkel1 guy, he doesn’t know what an intellectual conversation is supposed to look like.

    • Forrest Seymour